ATF Gains Efficiency With a Best-of-Breed Approach

SAN MATEO (03/15/2000) - Efficiency and flexibility in its automated financial management systems are important to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), which oversees the collection of $15 billion in tobacco and alcohol revenue annually.

But its legacy mainframe-based Federal Financial System (FFS), from American Management Systems Inc. (AMS), was causing financial managers in ATF's 100 field offices to duplicate records and long for direct access to information in the mainframe.

With year 2000 approaching, Marguerite Moccia, deputy CFO at ATF, saw a chance to lift the Big Iron curtain and bring automation to the bureau's field offices.

"We had been planning to modernize our systems for a number of years," Moccia says, and Y2K gave her division the opportunity to make the case for change.

After reviewing several offerings, ATF chose the Momentum client/ server system, also from AMS, which offers a flexible, best-of-breed approach to applications.

"The database structures are similar and the business logic is similar between [FFS and Momentum]," says Mark Danter, financial manager for systems at ATF.

"[But] we didn't want any artificial constraints built in from the start," he says. "Instead of just getting everything AMS-flavored all the way from beginning to end, we are integrating the tools that fit [our] particular business functions."

The Momentum project got under way in November 1998 with a full-time staff of 40. Since its initial implementation last October, the only notable glitch has involved the movement of historical data from the mainframe into the client/server system, Danter says.

"We had to come up with a different approach for converting the historical data," he says. "It was just taking too long, so we decided to convert it to [a summary view of the data] instead."

Phasing out the mainframe will be complete by year's end. That act alone will rack up savings in operational costs, and mean the redeployment of staff to other IT concerns and the end of contract support for mainframe-based systems, Danter says.

As another benefit of the Momentum project, the bureau has decentralized financial accountability throughout the organization. Previously paper-based requisition forms took about a week to go from field offices to the procurement department, when factoring in the U.S. mail and manual data input. That is now a 15-minute automated process, according to Danter.

As a result, field staff management is "paying a lot more attention to the quality of the data," he says. This contributes to a better understanding of the impact of their requisitions upon the entire budget of the bureau.

To aid in this process, ATF added the Business Objects reporting tool to Momentum.

"Even though we had used Oracle reporting internally for other systems, we felt Business Objects best fit our needs for this system," Danter says.

Other pieces expected over the next five years include a fixed-asset module for capital inventory and property control, and a travel-manager module deployed on employee desktops -- ensuring ATF additional returns on its investment.

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